MINI is both the name of a subsidiary of BMW, and a car produced by that subsidiary since 2001. The car is marketed as a "retro" redesign of the original Mini, which was manufactured by the British Motor Corporation and its successors from 1959 to 2000. To distinguish it from its predecessor (the ‘classic Mini’), the brand name for the new car is MINI (written in capital letters). It is often called ‘The BMW MINI’, ‘The New MINI’, or simply ‘MINI’. The MINI is manufactured in Cowley, Oxford, United Kingdom, in what was historically the Morris car plant.
The MINI is available in seven models: the MINI One D, the MINI One, the MINI One Convertible, the MINI Cooper, the MINI Cooper S, the MINI Cooper Convertible and the MINI Cooper S Convertible. In Portugal, the MINI One is powered by a 1.4 l version of the Tritec engine but all other gasoline powered MINIs use the 1.6 l version. Since 2004, a soft-top convertible option has been available across the entire range.
There are numerous styling and badging differences between the models, perhaps the most obvious being that the Cooper S has a distinctive scoop cut into the bonnet to provide airflow over the top mounted intercooler. The Cooper S also has twin exhausts which exit under the center of the rear valance. The (non-S) Cooper has more chrome parts than the MINI One and has a single exhaust. The MINI One/D has no visible exhaust pipes at all.
In some markets, such as Australia and the US, only the MINI Cooper and Cooper S are sold because the MINI One’s engine was considered to deliver insufficient power to run an air conditioner – a necessary feature in those climates. However, the only difference between the engines in the ‘One’ and the ‘Cooper’ models is a software change within the engine control unit which is tuned for optimum fuel economy on the MINI One and for a compromise between power and economy on the Cooper. Almost fifty percent of all MINIs sold in Australia and about seventy percent of those sold in the US are the top-of-the-range Cooper S model.
2005 Mini Cooper S Convertible
The names Cooper and Cooper S echo the names used for the sportier version of the classic Mini which in turn come from the involvement of John Cooper and the Cooper Car Company. The Cooper heritage is further emphasised with the John Cooper Works (JCW) range of tuning options that are available with the MINI.
The MINI One, Cooper and Cooper S use a Brazilian-built Tritec engine while the MINI One/D uses a Toyota-built diesel engine. In August 2006, BMW announced that engines would in future be built in the UK, making the car essentially British-built again (as well as the final assembly at Cowley, the body pressings are made in nearby Swindon).
While the modern MINI uses none of the engineering of the original Mini, it does capture much of the spirit of the classic car. Like the original, it uses a transversely-mounted four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels. All four wheels are pushed to the corners of the body which is a ‘two-box’ or ‘hot hatch’ design. The styling of the car, like that of the Volkswagen New Beetle, is a retro design that is deliberately reminiscent of the original Mini with contrasting roof colours, optional bonnet stripes, optional rally lights and with black trim around the wheel arches and rocker panels that mimic the wide wheel flares found on many classic Minis.
The MINI One and MINI Cooper are available with a continuously variable transmission or with a conventional Getrag five-speed manual transmission. The Cooper S comes with a six-speed Getrag manual or (from the 2005 model year onwards) a fully automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
Technical innovations include an electrically driven power steering system that avoids taking power from the engine, equal length driveshafts to eliminate torque steer, and a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension. The MINI has a ‘drive by wire’ electronic throttle, electronic brakeforce distribution, and electronic stability control to improve control and handling in adverse conditions.
Adding a supercharger to the Cooper S model required that the battery be relocated into the rear of the car — leaving no room for a spare tyre. Hence this model comes with run flat tyres as standard.
At the ‘Salon International de l’Auto’ (Geneva Motor Show) in 2004, MINI introduced a cabriolet (convertible) model which was released in the 2005 model year and available in One, Cooper and Cooper S versions.
The convertible roof is fully automatic — an unusual feature in such a small car — and can be opened partially to act as a sunroof whilst the car is driving at speed. The convertible model forsakes the rear hatch of the hardtop MINI — replacing it with a drop down ‘tailgate’ design reminiscent of the classic Mini and incorporating similarly prominent external hinges. The convertible also adds two small power windows for the rear seat passengers which are retracted automatically as the roof opens. The roof is made from a heavy cloth with many layers of insulation; the rear window is of glass and has a heater/defroster but no washer or wiper.
As a joke, (and undoubtedly as a part of MINI’s viral marketing approach) purchasers of the MINI convertible were asked to sign a ‘contract’ promising that they’d drive the car with the roof open at least 90% of the time. MINI also set up a telephone hotline (in the USA: 1-888-DO NOT CLOSE) which one may call to report convertible owners who are driving with the roof up inappropriately. The automated system offers such helpful advice as how to administer a wedgie to the offender.
The Works GP MINI
The last version of the cars to be made with the Tritec engine are the "MINI Cooper S Works GP", a lightweight, race-prepped John Cooper Works model. It was produced as a limited-production run of 2000 cars in 2006, around 400 of those ear-marked for the US market. It has racing style front seats and no rear seats, reduced sound-deadening, optional air-conditioning and other refinements that reduce the overall weight by approximately 15%. Additionally, it has enhanced brakes and suspension as well as 218 horsepower from the John Cooper Works engine modification package. In place of the rear seats there is additional body stiffening and below-floor storage areas. There are many unique styling points such as red door mirrors, a different spoiler design and specialised badging. Each car is individually numbered with a decal on the roof.
Whilst the car has been criticized for its poor space-efficiency compared with the original Mini (despite its significantly larger size), its faithfulness to the original’s razor sharp handling characteristics and its unique styling has seen the MINI become a sales success in Europe and (from 2002) in the U.S..
BMW has received a significant backlog of orders throughout the life of the car and the Cowley factory is currently expanding to reach a capacity of around 240,000 cars per year; all of this with little conventional advertising.
The car has featured in many movies, most notable of which is the 2003 remake of The Italian Job. (See also: List of movies in which Mini cars are featured.)
As with the classic Mini, the new MINI has a widespread club and enthusiast following and strong after-market support for performance upgrades and styling enhancements. Such community support keeps the brand highly valued and shows BMW’s decision to relaunch the MINI as a successful business strategy. The MINI Cooper/Cooper S won the North American Car of the Year award for 2003.